Monday, December 19, 2016

Were the Medici Italian?

Annamaria on Monday


Well, not according to the Netflix miniseries Medici Masters of Florence.




This is an English production.  And whenever the English tell stories about Italians, they can’t help making the really important people in the story…well, English.  And, I am sorry to say, letting their prejudices leak into the other portrayals.



But before I get into all that.  Let me talk about why I have stuck with this series through all eight episodes.  First and foremost: the art direction.  The settings are superlative.  (I am only days away from arriving in Florence, but still, the backgrounds in this series make me deliriously homesick to be there again.)  The Brits are really great at this sort of thing in historical productions.  And here they have the cities of Florence, Venice, and Rome and the Tuscan countryside to work with.  Point a camera anywhere and shoot in those locations and you could convince yourself that you have extraordinary talent as a photographer.  The backgrounds of the shots are not always authentic, but they almost always seem that way.  The buildings and the tapestries and paintings on the walls are drop-dead gorgeous.  The computer-generated images of, say the dome of the Duomo of Firenze under construction, are pretty convincing.  I do wish, when they mocked up the façade of the Palazzo della Signoria, that they had not decided to make it look new.  I understand why they did it, but they managed to make it look fake.



Speaking of fake, let’s get down to brass tacks.  I am here to castigate the casting.    With only one exception, all of the important (read upperclass) people in the story speak English with BBC accents.  The Medici men, their wives, their powerful allies and adversaries, the Pope, the Doge of Venice all sound like Lawrence Olivier in Richard III.  All except for Giovanni, the founder of the power-clan of Florence.  The real Giovanni came from humbler beginnings, so, given English snob attitudes, he is not worthy to sound like a proper Englishman.  Dustin Hoffman plays this role, sounding—to snob ears—“appropriately underclass” with his New Yorkish American.  He also looks decidedly unpatrician compared to his elegant and in this production, devastatingly handsome offspring.  His wife is allowed to be haut-English, which I imagine accounts for the about-face in his bloodlines.





People who do things no English gentlemen would consider doing, like keeping a shop, laying bricks, or otherwise working for a living, they are all English, but have cockney or Midlands accents.  Moving down the social strata, we come to the serving men and concubines.  These males, IF they are evil, sneaky, and double-dealing,  they speak English with Italian accents.  The sexpots of the servant class also all speak English with Italian accents.  And they all have red hair; I leave it to you to figure out why that is.  To complete the dastardly stereotyping, people who sweep up and carry heavy stuff for a living they speak bad English with thick Italian accents.


 


The other super-obvious clue that these Medici were not Italian is that none of them seems to know how to pronounce their own names.  Medici is MED-di-chee.  NOT med-DEE-chee.  Albizzi is al-BEE-tzee.  NOT AL-bee-zee.  Pazzi is PAH-tzee, for god’s sake.  Not Patsy.

On top of which, they don’t know how to bless themselves.  This is a gesture every Italian Catholic learns by they time he or she is three years old.  In Medici Masters of Florence, not even the Pope does it right.


I will not go on except to mention that the first episode jumps back and forth in time, making it incomprehensible.  Knowing the actual history is of no help in following the story.  I eventually discovered the clue to help viewers make a modicum of sense of Episode One.  Watch Cosimo’s hair:  it’s longer when he is supposed to look young, and shorter when he is supposed to look older.   Oh and if you do decide to watch (the scenery really is worth it), try not to notice that though they are married to the richest men in Florence, the Medici women share only one lipstick, or maybe they all just favored the same shade.  It will take some effort, but also try not to let it register that acting in this context consists of showing off how gorgeous your eyes are.


Oh, I almost forgot.  The sex scenes.  They are not Italian either.  Having never had a love affair with an Englishman, I can’t reliably blame this on Englishness.  But the sex is boring.  No seduction, no foreplay, no fun.  When making love, they all seem to start in the middle.  And then end very quickly.


22 comments:

  1. The English eh? What can you do? They do like their history their way. Anybody's history that is.

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    1. Too true, Caro. I was trying to keep my tongue firmly in my cheek or I would have made a frontal attack on the story they tell. It has just about nothing to do with the real story, and it paints real characters from history in a calumnious way. Something any serious writer of historical fiction would avoid like the plague.

      On the other hand, while the face makeup of the aristocratic women is definitely 21st Century suburban, the plague makeup on the extras is very convincing.

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  2. They seem to have missed the whole point of being Italian. While I love the Brits, they do have their deficiencies.

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    1. I love them, too, Juno. I thought I was giving them a ribbing, not a serious challenge. I was actually laughing when I wrote the piece. Especially the part about the Pope not being able to make the sign of the cross. They could have, at least, kept an Italian handy for details like that. But then he or she might have objected to the slanderous plot. It is not Florentine history AT ALL. It is actually Game of Thrones with great art and buildings, and lots of hair gel.

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  3. It doesn't really sound like the English did any worse than anyone else. Just study how American film treats other countries and cultures. I think it's a rare filmmaker who's able carry off the splits, placing one foot firmly in the country/culture of the story's setting and the other foot in the country/culture of the story's audience.

    Is it talent that is so rare, or people who give a shit about honestly and accurately conveying one culture to another while telling an interesting story at the same time?

    And it's unfair to pick on their love scenes when their stiffness carries all the way to their upper lip...

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    1. It's really unfair, EvKa, that you are telling me I am being unfair to the English by calling them unfair to the Italians. Just for that, I am tempted to produce a miniseries about Oregon, in which all the elegant and important people speak with a New York accent. And all the garbage collectors and prostitutes speak like Oregonians. Then, you would have a good reason to say I am being unfair. And you may have thought I would fall for your enticing use of the word stiff in your comment about sex among the English, and offer some salacious puns. I can't say I am not tempted. But I will not succumb.

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    2. :-) An interesting idea, but nowhere did I say you were being unfair EXCEPT in regards to picking on their sex scenes. For all we know, those scenes are highly realistic and representative of English sex. (Oops. I need to go into hiding for fear of Charlie Fox tracking me down...)

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    3. You can run, EvKa, but you can't hide ...

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  4. Aren't sex scenes supposed to start in the middle? PAUSE. Oh, you're talking about time, not location.

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    1. Jeff, let's leave bellybuttons out of this, please.

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  5. Feeling just a teensy bit got at now, chaps. Particularly when the American movie view of history and geography can be ... interesting, to say the least. And we live in an age when even so-called 'reality' TV isn't real, so what did you expect of drama?

    However, sex scenes that 'start in the middle and end very quickly' with 'no seduction, no foreplay, no fun' is not necessarily an English trait. They may simply have been married ...

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    1. Oh, no, Zoe. NOT YOU. And I really was trying to poke fun at the lack of tact. I was laughing when I wrote it. Especially the parts about the Pope and them not being able to pronounce their own names. And really--I did disclaim any first-hand (ahem) knowledge of sex among the English. The actors on my TV were English, but they were just faking it.

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    2. Ohhh?? Are you surrrre? Were they THAT bad of actors???

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    3. Yup. The director seems to think a slender body, lots of hair gel, and heavy eye makeup are all it takes to make a person sexy. A pov with which I for one do not agree.

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  6. Annamaria: it puzzles me that you use non-Italian names for the cities - Florence, Venice, Rome, etc., and not what the Italians call them. A little cultural bias perhaps? And I wonder about your insights into the differences with respect to sex between the English and Italians.

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    1. Jeez Louise! Why is everbeing so defensive? you I disclaimed any direct knowledge of sex among the or with English people. I just said the sex portrayed in the show was boring. I was satirizing cultural stupidity. Is it a sign of bias to make fun of the English?

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    2. No need, Annamaria: Brexit, Boris Johnson #trousergate. We make fun of ourselves ...

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  7. No defensiveness here. However you did say that the sex scenes were not Italian! Hmm!

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    1. Okay. I confess. They were not extramarital I feel compelled to say. But I have had two love affairs with Americans of Italian descent. Not a statistical sample worthy of broad generalizations. I am leaving for Italy on Friday. I am tempted to say I will do further research and report back But that is highly unlikely.

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    2. Unlikely... that you'll report back? :-)

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  8. Hilarious all of it, post and comments.

    This post just reminded me of the very British Rufus Sewell portraying the very Italian police investigator, Aurelio Zen on TV.

    Over here in the States, there is a lot of Americanizing of history on TV and in movies. It is often laughable.



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